Open Access – Chemistry World reviews the dilemma

In this month’s Chemistry World (a magazine from the Royal Society of Chemistry) there is an important article by Rebecca Trager (US) reviewing the increasing fission within the chemistry publishing community: Chemistry’s open access dilemma


This was a commissioned article, I think (Rebecca interviewed a number of people including me by phone) and does not, I think, represent any explicit or implicit policy of the RSC itself. I think the article gives a fair account of the current position in chemistry (the article is free-to-read and I give selected quotes):

But the saga [NIH bill] has highlighted a widening rift in the chemical community over open access publishing – and the contentious provision could yet be revived.

Major scholarly societies joined the Association of American Publishers (AAP) in lobbying against the proposal, including the American Chemical Society (ACS), the American Association for Clinical Chemistry, the Biochemical Society, and the RSC (publishers of Chemistry World).

PMR. I suspect, though I do not know, that this is distinct from the PRISM movement which was also launched from the AAP

But the battle lines are already being drawn. The ACS wants the NIH policy to remain voluntary. ‘Depending on how they implement this, it could represent a federal taking of copyrighted materials,’ ACS spokesman Glenn Ruskin told Chemistry World.

A compulsory policy would need costly monitoring and penalisation systems, Ruskin said. ‘Why expend monies on a mandatory policy, when they could get to their endpoint a lot quicker if they just worked more cooperatively with the publishers?’

‘The idea of public access to research information is a little bit specious,’ added Robert Parker, managing director of RSC publishing. ‘The UK government will be funding the London Olympics in 2012, but that doesn’t mean that everybody can have free tickets – there is a big difference between funding something and having it be freely available.’

PMR: Factually the current position is that almost all chemistry publishers (such as ACS and RSC) continue to hold the copyright on closed access articles funded by governments. Maybe the analogy with the Olympics is a little bit stretched.

The Partnership for Research Integrity in Science and Medicine (PRISM) argues that the Congress bill could damage peer review by compromising the viability of non-profit and commercial journals. Predictably, the campaign has sparked outrage among open access lobby groups. In the wake of the furore, nine publishers have disavowed PRISM, including Cambridge University Press, Oxford University Press, Columbia University Press and University of Chicago Press. The ACS – which had been closely involved with PRISM – has now also played down links with the campaign.

PMR: PRISM is playing Haydn’s farewell symphony. No one seems to support it (I don’t know about the RSC- maybe this is a chance for them to comment). Is anyone left?

As a result, the steps taken by the RSC and ACS to enter this new world of publishing have received a stilted response from chemists.

For roughly a year, the RSC has had an Open Science service that allows authors to pay to make their article freely accessible to all. The basic fee for a primary research article is £1600 with a 15 per cent discount for RSC members, owner societies of RSC journals, and authors from subscribing organisations. So far, just four authors have participated.

PMR: Just in case anyone is unfamiliar with the RSC’s use of “Open Science” – this is not full Open Access under the BBB declaration but is a free-to-read version where the journal retains copyright. Readers can decide whether this is a good bargain compared with full Open Access offerings (it’s not the worst).

Indeed, there are calls for bold and decisive leadership on this increasingly divisive issue from all sides of the chemistry community. ‘Vision is needed. Where we are at the moment is unacceptable,’ said the ACS’s Ruskin.

PMR: I have indeed argued frequently that bold and decisive leadership is necessary and that it should come from learned societies and International Unions who are respected by the community. But if it doesn’t come from there, the community will find another way and in the Internet era that can happen very quickly.

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